The Expert Generalist

Elon Musk is one of the most successful men in the world. It’s amazing that one person can have as many top-flight successes as he does, and if you’re anything like me you’ve thought at least once about where Elon Musk’s almost magical run comes from.

Ready for the answer? Elon Musk is an Expert Generalist.

Somehow, Elon Musk has never before come up here. And I’m no more trying to actually compare myself to him than I was comparing myself to Seth Godin or Henry Blodget in this piece some years back. But Elon Musk and I share one trait in common that I’ve long believed was important to broad business success. The world needs experts, but the expert generalist may be more important.

Let me take a step back from that for a moment. The very beginning of my bio has long started with these words:

Jeff Yablon is a computer geek.

OK, so not really. Jeff isn’t a geek at all, although …

Most people who know me even a little are surprised that I don’t consider myself a geek because I’m way geekier than they are and can speak with the real geeks of the world.

But assuming you can even call “geek” a specialty (and it’s too broad; you can’t), I’m not at the geek level that many people I know or hire are. I can talk to them. I make a pretty good living getting between them and folks who can’t get on their level. But a real geek I am not; at most I’m what we used to call a super-user.

A few weeks ago I came across this piece describing Elon Musk as an expert generalist and it’s been on my mind ever since. It’s convenient and self-satisfying for me that it dispels the old “jack of all trades, master of none” axiom, but seeing the idea applied to Elon Musk is what really brings the point home.

The Expert Generalist

And I believe this whole expert generalist thing truly is what makes Musk who he is.

There are, simply put, times when knowing (more than) a little about a lot is better than knowing (almost) everything about one topic. Elon Musk is brilliant, but he can’t know everything about all the things he has his finger in. He knows what he has to know, and he hires others with specialist skills to do their specialized things. That’s what an expert generalist does.

And it’s what you have to do to grow your business past whatever amazing thing you based it on.

And helping you with that is what we do here. Want to talk?

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